Starlin Castro eager to put ugly 2013 season behind

Written By BY GORDON WITTENMYER Staff Reporter Posted: 05/01/2014, 07:24am

PHOENIX — Shortstop Starlin Castro returned to the major-league lineup for the Cubs’ final spring-training game Saturday for the first time in nearly four weeks.

More important, he said he is healthy physically and mentally as the Cubs prepare to open the regular season Monday in Pittsburgh.

‘‘When I came in [to spring training], I just tried to come in with my mind clean,’’ said Castro, who turned 24 last week and will be entering his fifth big-league season. ‘‘I don’t want to be paying attention to stuff [from] last year or figure out about last year — no, no, no. I know it was a tough year for me. I think it was more of a mental year for me than anything.’’

Between the Cubs pushing their grind-out-at-bats gospel and having three hitting voices in his ear at various points, Castro got lost by summertime in what turned into his worst season at the plate (.245 average, .284 on-base percentage).

He has a new manager, hitting coach and confidence level this season, especially after training harder than ever during the offseason — and even after a monthlong rehab of a strained right hamstring.

‘‘I’m ready this year,’’ he said. ‘‘Last year, I thought too much. Too much listening to some things. Too many things in my mind. It’s not good. When you’re ready to play baseball, you have to have your mind clean.

‘‘That’s why this year I don’t want to [dwell on things]. If I make a mistake, yes, I did that, but those things don’t make me [who I am]. . . . Just have a strong mind and don’t let those things happen again. If something happens, don’t be frustrated for a month or three weeks. It happens. OK, you [reset] and keep playing hard.’’

Castro also said he wants to stay aggressive. He did that Saturday and still saw 10 pitches in his first two at-bats, mostly as a function of experience. He batted once more and walked.

‘‘I can’t try to do something I’ve never done,’’ he said. ‘‘If I am an aggressive hitter, stay aggressive. Do what I’ve always done. And play hard.’’

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